By the Echo Press Editorial Board

Another warning bell is sounding against e-cigarettes and vaping.

The Minnesota Department of Health is encouraging health care providers to be on alert for novel cases of severe lung disease potentially related to vaping and e-cigarette use among teens and young adults.

Children’s Minnesota has reported finding four cases of severe lung injury in the metro area potentially related to vaping, according to the health department, which issued a news release about the potential danger this week. The cases are similar to lung disease cases recently reported in Wisconsin and Illinois, though it is too early to say whether they are connected.

“There are still many unanswered questions, but the health harms emerging from the current epidemic of youth vaping in Minnesota continue to increase,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist and MDH medical director. “We are encouraging providers and parents to be on the look-out for vaping as a cause for unexplained breathing problems and lung injury and disease.”

In Minnesota, symptoms have resulted in hospitalizations lasting multiple weeks, with some patients being admitted to the intensive care unit, according to the health department. Product names are unknown.

“We are deeply concerned by the severe cases of lung injury associated with vaping that we are currently seeing,” said Dr. Emily Chapman, chief medical officer at Children’s Minnesota. “These cases are extremely complex to diagnose, as symptoms can mimic a common infection yet can lead to severe complications and extended hospitalization. Medical attention is essential; respiratory conditions can continue to decline without proper treatment.”

Reported symptoms in the Minnesota cases include shortness of breath, fever, cough, and vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms reported by some patients included headache, dizziness, and chest pain.

State health officials said that patients and people with a history of vaping who are experiencing lung symptoms should seek clinical care.

Other information from the health department:

  • E-cigarette aerosol contains harmful chemicals, such as ultrafine particles, oil, heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead, and other cancer-causing chemicals. E-cigarettes, vapes, e-pipes and other vaping products are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid.

  • E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can impact learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances.

E-cigarette use among teens has been called an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General

Locally, the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly 20 percent of high-school students use e-cigarettes and 40 percent have tried them. Youth e-cigarette use has surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product category among youth.

In addition, 34.7 percent of high school students and 15.8 percent of middle school students who currently use e-cigarettes have used an e-cigarette for recreational marijuana, THC or hash oil, or THC wax at least once in their lifetime.

The Minnesota Department of Health has more information about e-cigarettes and other vaping products on its website, www.health.state.mn.us./